Carolina is paying for a wall constructed by the Florida Panthers.

Carolina is paying for a wall constructed by the Florida Panthers.

Sergei Bobrovsky has done more than just play goaltender, shot-blocker, and last-line defence. He’s transformed into an all-consuming black hole that eats all light and hope, slapping dreams away with his pads or forcing them to evaporate in a moment, consumed by the mysterious powers of his glove.

Despite all of the fanfare surrounding Matthew Tkachuk’s arrival, it’s Bob who has the Florida Panthers on the edge of the Stanley Cup Finals. With a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes have a response for anything the Panthers can throw at them — except Bob. This is a heater in net unlike anything we’ve seen in years, and the team’s whole game strategy now relies on inflicting as much frustration as possible on opponents and waiting for them to self-destruct.

On Tuesday night, everything went off without a hitch. Martin Necas, who has developed as one of Carolina’s most consistent goal scorers, found himself in the slot with a terrific angle with just over 14 minutes remaining in Game 3 — a position he’s had dozens of times in 2022-23, usually putting the puck home with ease. He paused, turning the puck around, overthinking his shot, and being absorbed by the goalie’s gloom as he stared down Bob. A defenseman might easily come in, impede the shot, and destroy another Canes chance.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, Bobrovsky has given up three goals on 135 save attempts. This series, his GAA is an unfathomable 0.69. He’s stopped almost 60 consecutive shots, and nothing Carolina puts at him can get past him. Those figures aren’t simply impressive on paper, since it’s not only that he’s making saves, but also how he’s doing it. Bob moves with a sixth instinct, stopping everything, even shots that any goaltender would be excused for let in.

Panthers head coach Paul Maurice deserves a lot of credit for capturing and channelling his goalie’s passion. Florida’s whole game strategy now focuses on the dump and chase, waiting for the Hurricanes to overextend out of frustration and then punishing on the counter. It makes no difference if Florida only shot 17 times as long as one of them was successful – the volume of the Hurricanes offence has no influence.

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